He is now alone at the summit, and set to go higher; how much higher not even he can tell.
Cricket’s fandom was at his feet this evening but Virat Kohli chose to pay a second round of tribute to the Master and his avowed idol.
At the edge of the stairs which lead to the dressing room at Wankhede Stadium, just below the Mumbai Cricket Association President’s Box, Kohli hovered for a little bit. He had just shovelled a Tim Southee delivery into the hands of deep square leg, having spent 149 minutes in the sweltering heat and humidity.
As he noticed Sachin Tendulkar applauding from the enclosure, he chose to bow once again out of sheer reverence. Hands raised, he doffed his helmet and saluted Tendulkar after having become the first to hit 50 ODI tons and bested the legend clapping in the stands.
Kohli had tied with Tendulkar at the Eden Gardens against South Africa, on his 35th birthday. At Wankhede, in a testing semi-final game, he went past him.
Kohli’s century — along with Shreyas Iyer’s ton and a stellar seven-wicket haul by Mohammed Shami — was critical to brushing aside India’s World Cup semi-final hoodoo and taking the team to the final in Ahmedabad on Sunday.
This is one hundred he will cherish for its unique nature, a milestone which will take a more extraordinary career to overtake.
The celebrations weren’t muted, the occasion was momentous: the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand.
The familiar leap, then a punch in the air with clenched fists before taking off his helmet, throwing his head back and kneeling on the ground, both out of relief and sheer exhaustion.
Then, hands raised, he bowed towards Tendulkar, while wife Anushka Sharma blew kisses at him.
The first to scale the peak, Kohli has now joined other Indian legends who achieved similar heights — Kapil Dev, when he eclipsed Richard Hadlee’s 431 wickets, Sunil Gavaskar, when he crossed Don Bradman’s 29 centuries and later became the first to get to the 10,000-run mark.
Kohli always dreamt about being able to bat like the Master; he has now become the embodiment of the dream himself.
For long the Wankhede had belonged to Tendulkar. But Kohli seems to have grabbed a part of the Master’s home turf in his own inimitable style.
The Saachin-Saachin chants which were a common phenomenon during Tendulkar’s playing days have now turned into Kohli-Kohli. Mumbai, the city of dreams, seems to have made the West Delhiite one of their own.
“The first time I met you in the Indian dressing room, you were pranked by other teammates into touching my feet. I couldn’t stop laughing that day. But soon, you touched my heart with your passion and skill. I am so happy that that young boy has grown into a ‘Virat’ player,” Sachin wrote on X.
“I couldn’t be happier that an Indian broke my record. And to do it on the biggest stage — in the World Cup semi-final — and at my home ground is the icing on the cake,” the Master added.
Kohli for his part was overwhelmed by the adulation.
“Well, I’m feeling... again, the great man just congratulated me. It feels like a dream. Too good to be true. Big game for us and I played the role so that the guys around me can come and express themselves,” Kohli said.
“Sachin paaji was there in the stands. It’s very difficult for me to express it. My life partner, my hero, he’s sitting there. And all these fans at the Wankhede.”
Kohli also broke the Master’s record for most runs in a single edition of the ODI World Cup. Tendulkar had scored 673 runs in the 2003 tournament; Kohli now has 711 runs.
It wasn’t easy out there. The sultry conditions had forced Shubman Gill out with cramps and Kohli too showed early signs that he needed the physio’s attention.
He didn’t show the brute power of Rohit Sharma but initially left it to Gill to take most of the strike. He gradually shifted gears and there was no stopping him.
Wankhede belonged to Kohli tonight and he never let it slip from his grasp.